Adapting to a Post-Pandemic World

Since the beginning of 2020, whenever we turned on the TV, listened to the radio, browsed social media, or even while speaking with our friends and co-workers we have been bombarded with COVID-19 information. Numbers of infected, numbers of deaths around the world, constantly changing restrictions, and more have flooded our minds daily. The once normal social activities we enjoyed participating in, were now considered unsafe and many of us were also required to work from home or lost our jobs completely.

A new collective experience of social anxiety has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether you suffered from social anxiety before or you’ve slowly developed social anxiety since being isolated and distanced from others, returning to post-pandemic “normal” life can seem more daunting than the onset of the pandemic itself.

You are not alone in your concerns. Studies show that symptoms of social anxiety have increased significantly since 2020. The good news is, there are natural and effective ways that may help to manage and cope with anxiety that may allow you to make a smoother, at-ease transition back into society.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

To manage and cope with anxiety you must first understand the symptoms associated with it. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the following symptoms, consult your healthcare provider or physician for clarification.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, the signs and symptoms of anxiety can include:

● Feeling nervous, irritable, or on edge
● Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
● Having an increased heart rate
● Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
● Feeling weak or tired
● Difficulty concentrating
● Having trouble sleeping
● Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems

Over the last year, social anxiety has been front row-center as we have trained our brains to perceive people themselves as a threat due to the risk of contracting the virus. Fear of going outdoors, interacting with strangers and even fear of the air we breathe in proximity to others has been a concern for many!

As more and more have either already contracted the virus and built up an immunity to it or have become vaccinated, the threat ratio has lowered, however, our brain may not recognize the change and continue to ignite our fight or flight response.

Get Ready to Face Society Once Again

Before the pandemic, you may not have had to deal with anxiety and fear of social settings as you are now. You may also be feeling the pressure from work responsibilities, friends, and/or family to return to your normal routines.

If the idea of re-engaging with society is causing you worry, here are some tips to help:

● Get outside of the house every day. Go for a walk, go to the pharmacy, do the groceries rather than store pick up.

● If your workplace will soon require you to return back to the office, head to your place of work and walk around to regain that comfort and routine. The same goes for those attending college/university or children who attend school and fear going back to the classroom.

● Start socializing with others on the phone, video calls and gradually return to seeing them in person one at a time when you can.

Start off slow and steadily work towards the more challenging activities until you can feel comfortable engaging with others in society again.

Coping Strategies to Help Reduce Anxiety

There are many safe, effective, and natural ways to help cope with anxiety, whether you have been dealing with social anxiety for some time or if this a new onset of the pandemic. Psychologists note that avoiding these issues can have the opposite effect than what you would want and only provide a temporary sense of relief while in the long run actually lead to an increase in anxiety. So getting clear on what you can do to ease your anxiety and taking action right now is important.

Exercise

Exercise has long been known to benefit our overall health and no matter your age, current physical activity, weight, abilities, or size, even small amounts of exercise have been shown to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, reduce tension, and boost overall mood.

If you are unsure how to begin to increase your physical activity and are anxious about going too far from home, try these simple changes to your daily routine so you too can reap the benefits of physical activity.

● Engage in active family playtime. Any game that gets everyone up and moving counts!
● Catch up on household chores such as cleaning out the closet. Vacuuming is also physical activity.
● Mow the grass, go for a walk, or take a bike ride.
● Make television watching more active by doing jumping jacks or push-ups during the commercials.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is a form of calming your mind to increase focus, reduce stress, ease tension, and reduce anxiety levels. It has been scientifically shown to help alleviate the chaos that can crowd our minds, especially when faced with a fearful or anxious situation.

Using meditation to ease anxiety takes practice as in the beginning it may be difficult to calm our racing minds while diving deeper into our inner selves.

Try these mindfulness techniques that can help ground you when feeling anxious and out of control:

● Deep breathing exercises. Breathe in for five seconds, hold, breathe out for five seconds. Repeat 5 times or until you feel more calm.
● Visualize calming places like a beach, the lake or somewhere you have fond memories.
● Keep a gratitude journal. Each morning or evening, write down 3 things you are grateful for. Reach for this and read back on your thoughts to stay positive.

Supplements and Natural Therapies

Many people turn to medication in an effort to manage anxiety but the reality is the side effects from medications can have their own impact on overall health. Natural supplements like adaptogens may help you cope, reduce depression, may help with sleep and keep your system balanced while you are working through new and past anxieties. Speak with your natural health practitioner to find out what supplements will work best for your unique body.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a derivative of the cannabis, or marijuana, plant and has been used as a treatment for a range of neuropsychiatric disorders including anxiety with positive results.

Unlike other forms of cannabis, CBD oil does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the ‘high’ causing substance of marijuana, therefore, it is an effective anxiety reducer without affecting mental function.

Smells and aromas have a way of triggering memories and many plant oils have a calming effect on our body and mind. Lavender for example has been shown to reduce heart rate in the short term and help to ease sleep issues in the long term.

Do Things That Bring You Joy

Remind yourself of all the things that bring you joy and can help soothe your feelings of anxiety. Watch a funny movie or TV show, read a good book, or learn a new skill.

If you have pets, they can be a great comfort and you can rely on them for emotional support and calm your anxious feelings. Plus, walking a dog routinely outside can help ease you back into socializing with others.

Set Boundaries & Goals

How you choose to reintegrate into ‘normal’ life is your own personal choice. You may be comfortable visiting friends in an open area such as a park, but uncomfortable socializing indoors. Make a list of what you feel comfortable doing and express your fears and concerns with your loved ones so they can clearly understand your needs.

Go a step further and record your feelings, emotions, fears, goals, and expectations in a journal or diary. Often when we see our thoughts on paper, they are easier to face and approach with a calm mindset.

Lastly, be open minded and allow yourself to be friendly (you never know if others are feeling the same way as you). While you need to have empathy for yourself and validate how you feel it’s important to understand that many people are dealing with this reemergence too and are equally anxious about what it all entails.

Can You Achieve an Anxiety-Free Return to Society?

Peer pressure exists in all stages of life so always remember you have the choice to say “no” when a situation makes you uncomfortable. Your optimal health and mindfulness are vital to reengaging with society, therefore, when feeling anxious or stressed, try the methods above to calm your mind and release your body from the fight or flight mode.

There are, and always will be, stressors in your life. Reengaging your inner peace by actively recognizing your anxiety triggers will allow you to focus on moving past them. Knowing your own values, fears, hopes, and future goals will help to set your mind on a new course allowing you to act on resolving your anxiety.

If you are finding your anxiety is increasing affecting your relationships with others, or controlling your life, don’t hesitate to give us a call to schedule a consult. There are natural ways to help manage your stress and keep your body balanced so these new stressors are not taking control.

References:

Bohlmeijer E, Prenger R, Taal E, Cuijpers P. The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy on mental health of adults with a chronic medical disease: a meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res. 2010;68(6):539-544.

Hofmann SG, Sawyer AT, Witt AA, Oh D. The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: a meta-analytic review. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2010;78(2):169-183.

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Claire Thompson, Maria C. Mancebo, Ethan Moitra,
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The Secrets Of Aging And Longevity

The search for the fountain of youth is as old as time. Here’s an idea. What if the fountain of youth is simply the sum of our decisions? If that’s the case, then the power to live long and well is (somewhat) in our hands! We can influence our longevity by making a daily commitment to healthy, longevity-based lifestyle choices. Research shows that only about 25 percent of our longevity is inherited and the remaining 75 percent is determined by the way we live. If the factors that influence the aging process are few enough to control through healthy living, we stand a chance at increasing our longevity by making the right choices.

Thankfully, evidence suggests there are a finite number of ways to influence aging. This means we’re not doomed by bad genes, nor can we rely solely on good genes to carry us through long and healthy lives all the way into our 90’s. We can, however, do certain things to increase our chances of getting there. So let’s get down to the conditions for living a long and healthy life. After all, what good is living a long life if we’re not disease and disability-free in old age? That’s the goal!

Why Do We Age?

There are many compelling theories on the subject of how and why we age dating back to antiquity. Some ancient philosophers believed in a version of the “rate of living” theory, which suggests each person possesses a mysterious “vital substance” that keeps them alive. This elusive life-giving ingredient was thought of as a predetermined, finite amount of heartbeats and breaths awarded to each person at birth to last throughout their lifetime. Luckily for us, this isn’t the case! However, the mystery of exactly how and why we age has yet to be fully solved.

Aging Occurs At The Cellular LevelFree Radicals

Evidence also suggests aging can be caused by free-radicals causing oxidative damage to cells. Free-radicals are the toxic byproducts of normal cellular metabolism. This creates a vicious cycle in which free radicals cause oxidative damage to cells, which in turn produces more free-radicals. This unavoidable side-effect of cell production leads to cell death, the result of which are the signs of aging.

Stress Is The Killer

All of the most compelling modern theories on aging point to cellular damage as the main cause for the deterioration of our bodies as we grow older. Both physical and emotional stress cause free-radicals, oxidation, and damage to DNA–all factors that cause cell death and aging. Stress has the power to lower our immune system, increase inflammation, and destroy the brain cells that are responsible for memory. This is because when we’re stressed our bodies produce cortisol, a hormone directly linked to causing cell damage.

It only makes sense that finding ways to lower stress is the best overall anti-aging remedy. Besides, why all the concern with living a long time if we’re always stressed out beyond belief? Incorporating stress-reducing tools day to day increases our quality of life, and that’s a top priority!

Physical And Psychological Stress

Both environmental as well as lifestyle choices can impact stress levels in the body. Heavy metals from polluted water, EMFs, chemicals, alcohol, cigarettes, and poor diet all contribute to the production of cortisol which means more stress.

People who suffer from chronic stress, depression, anxiety, trauma, and social isolation have similar damage in common at the cellular level. Studies show that stress shortens the length of a part of cells called telomeres. Shortened telomeres are a leading cause of cell death and aging.

The good news is we have some control over how we deal with stress. All we need is the awareness and the willingness to confront stress, and the right tools available to help us do so.

Holistic Stress Reducers

Living a stress-free lifestyle is the key to a long, happy, healthy life. The challenge, should we choose to accept it, is committing ourselves to reducing stress in our lives. Afterall, we can’t show up for life effectively if our minds are always clouded by stress. So what are some tools we can use to manage and eliminate stress, one day at a time?

● Meditation. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress by creating new neurological pathways in the brain. This makes new thoughts possible and helps shake us out of old habits. Taking a moment to quiet the endless stream of thoughts running through our minds allows us to take a piece of that tranquility with us throughout the rest of the day. Meditation makes a world of difference and doesn’t have to be intimidating! Even taking 5 to 10 minutes to center yourself before starting your day can be life-changing.

● Healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet full of fresh organic vegetables, whole grains, and nutrient-rich proteins is key to longevity. Eliminating sugar and processed foods is a must for anyone concerned with living long and well.

● Physical activity. Implementing an exercise routine is essential to mental and physical wellness. Physical activity releases powerful stress-reducing endorphins in the brain. Yoga is especially helpful, as it combines meditation with exercise, naturally relaxing the body and mind.

● Good sleep. Sleep facilitates the function of the lymphatic system, which can be thought of as the brain’s garbage disposer. While we’re asleep, the brain works 10 times as hard to remove toxins, like the protein build-up responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.

● Limiting exposure to toxins. The effects of environmental toxins such as polluted water and poor air quality can seriously impact longevity over time. It’s been proven that people who live in places with cleaner air and access to fresh, clean water are known to live longer. Avoiding toxic materials, such as using plastic for food storage, is an easy way to start reducing toxicity in the body.

● Purposeful living. Living a purposeful life is the most important thing we can do to extend our longevity. One thing centenarians all have in common is feeling they have lived a life worth living. Studies show that people who live with a greater sense of purpose experience better quality sleep along with receiving the regenerative benefits of being well-rested.

● Gratitude. Practicing an attitude of gratitude is one way to ensure we live long and prosper.

A Note on Blue Zones

The places on earth with the greatest longevity are known as “Blue Zones,” and people who live there all have some major things in common. They tend to live with a greater sense of purpose and value healthy eating, exercise, and maintaining positive relationships with themselves and others.

Japan is the country with the greatest longevity on the planet, one out of fifteen-hundred Japanese citizens are over one hundred years old!
The answer is in the culture. Obesity rates are low, as the common Japanese diet consists mainly of plant food, fish, and non-sugar sweetened beverages. The Japanese value purposeful living and meditation is a regular practice among common people. Managing stress and living with purpose are the most important things we can do to increase longevity. The Japanese culture supports both, and the proof is in the population.

You Only Live Once!

As far as we know, this is our one and only life in this form. It’s up to the individual to tend their own garden by implementing life-affirming, longevity-boosting lifestyles to ensure this life is meaningful, enjoyable, and lasts a good long time!

The good news is we’re definitely not alone on the journey. If you’re curious about ways to increase your longevity and overall quality of life, give us a call. We may be able to help!

Sources:

Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, Berger Z, Sleicher D, Maron DD, Shihab HM, Ranasinghe PD, Linn S, Saha S, Bass EB, Haythornthwaite JA. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018. PMID: 24395196; PMCID: PMC4142584.

Schultchen D, Reichenberger J, Mittl T, Weh TRM, Smyth JM, Blechert J, Pollatos O. Bidirectional relationship of stress and affect with physical activity and healthy eating. Br J Health Psychol. 2019 May;24(2):315-333. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12355. Epub 2019 Jan 22. PMID: 30672069; PMCID: PMC6767465.

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Alimujiang A, Wiensch A, Boss J, et al. Association Between Life Purpose and Mortality Among US Adults Older Than 50 Years. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(5):e194270. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.4270

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Ease the Frustration of Fibromyalgia the Natural Way

Many patients with fibromyalgia have come to us after facing many barriers when trying to relieve their symptoms, or even get a firm diagnosis. The lack of agreement on best practices for symptom relief makes this condition difficult to navigate, and the frustration is often made worse by the wide range of possible symptoms, often without a predictable pattern. But Naturopathic Medicine may have a lot to offer.

Fibromyalgia doesn’t have to hold you back, read on to learn about holistic approaches that are showing a lot of promise.

Roadblocks in Diagnosing Fibromyalgia

A 2010 study looking at the journey to diagnosis study found that fibromyalgia patients waited an average of about one year before even seeing a healthcare practitioner, and many had to see multiple practitioners with an average of 2.3 years before concluding they in fact had fibromyalgia.

Promising Developments

In recent years we have seen some promising developments in fibromyalgia research, with particularly exciting developments being made regarding holistic practices that may help ease the severity of symptoms.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is more common in women than men, and is more likely to appear as menopause begins (as if menopausal women didn’t have enough to deal with!).

For many patients, the most pressing symptom is unexplained widespread pain in the soft tissues, the areas between the bones like fat, muscle, fibrous tissue and blood vessels. People with fibromyalgia describe the sensation as a dull, constant pain, which is often triggered by touch, and can become progressively more debilitating. Most often, this pain occurs at multiple points, called regions of pain, on both sides of the body and above and below the waist.

Other symptoms can include:

● Stiffness in the morning
● Tingling hands or feet
● Irritable bowel syndrome
● Headaches
● Weight gain
● Nausea
● Jaw pain
● Bloating
● Constipation
● Unexplained fatigue
● Trouble sleeping
● Weight gain
● Skin sensitivity

Many patients also report mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating – a symptom often described as “brain fog.”

That’s quite an extensive list of symptoms, and to further complicate matters, patients can experience combinations of different symptoms at different times.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

The wide range of symptoms and their unpredictable nature make diagnosis a challenge. A definitive diagnostic test isn’t yet available, and as a result, many people struggle with symptoms for months or years before arriving at a solution. If you suspect you may have fibromyalgia, always work with a medical practitioner who doesn’t dismiss how you feel. Your concerns deserve to be heard.

A Process of Elimination

Arriving at a fibromyalgia diagnosis is partly a process of elimination, since other health issues, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis or Sjogren’s disease can cause many of the same symptoms. A thorough physical and mental health exam can help narrow down the cause.

More Common in Women

Because fibromyalgia is much more common in women, men may face additional barriers to diagnosis. It’s important to note that this condition does occur in men, and that the symptoms can greatly impact their quality of life. Men who are experiencing the symptoms above may need to be even more persistent in pursuing a diagnosis.

What causes fibromyalgia?

This is another difficult element of fibromyalgia, since studies haven’t yet identified a specific trigger. However, many medical practitioners have noticed that it often begins after a patient has experienced a physically or emotionally traumatic event, like a car accident, relationship breakdown, or injury. This connection is further supported by the fact that people who have post-traumatic stress disorder are more prone to fibromyalgia.

Some evidence points to a genetic component for a person’s susceptibility. If you’re experiencing symptoms, think about your relatives’ health history. Conventional medicine has been slow to recognize fibromyalgia, so even if a relative wasn’t diagnosed officially, having a history of fibromyalgia symptoms could be a red flag.

What are Some Natural Remedies for Fibromyalgia?

To date, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, there are numerous natural ways to help relieve symptoms and restore quality of life, including:

1 – Supplementation

● Magnesium citrate supplements have been found to reduce the pain associated with fibromyalgia.
● Melatonin may improve sleep quality, important in coping with the many symptoms.
● The anti-inflammatory properties of Omega 3 and fish oil may also help reduce pain.
● Studies have found a possible connection between Vitamin D deficiency and fibromyalgia, so make sure you are getting enough, particularly during the winter.
● D-ribose helps relieve pain and depression, and can prevent insomnia in fibromyalgia patients.

2 – Herbal supplements

● One promising study on Ginseng found that it helped to relieve fibromyalgia pain and insomnia.
● Curcumin, a component of turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties that may also help to relieve pain associated with fibromyalgia.
● Some patients experience an improvement in mood with the use of St. John’s Wort.

3 – Acupuncture

Acupuncture may help increase blood flow to the affected areas, helping to reduce pain and tension. It may also boost production of endorphins, which can have a positive impact on mood.

4 – Exercise

When you’re tired and sore, exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do, but numerous studies have linked exercise with good outcomes for people with fibromyalgia. Yoga has been found to be especially useful in easing both physical and psychological symptoms. Other effective activities include walking, any exercise in water, and strength training. Be sure to always work with a professional trainer to get acquainted with strength work, preferably one who has treated fibromyalgia patients before.

Remember that consistency is more important than intensity. Don’t push yourself, small amounts of exercise help but you don’t want to overdo it and cause more pain.

5 – Diet

Many patients find an anti-inflammatory diet helps ease their symptoms. In particular, a diet that is low in FODMAPs is often effective. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, but in simpler terms, FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates which may cause inflammation or digestive upsets.

Common high-FODMAP foods include:

● Wheat
● Onions
● Garlic
● Beans
● Many fruits, including apples, figs, mangos, peaches, and nectarines, are high in FODMAPs, and should be avoided.
● Some vegetables, particularly asparagus, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
● Many sweeteners, particularly honey, high-fructose corn syrup, and agave nectar.
● Dairy products that contain lactose.

As you can see, FODMAPs are found in a lot of foods, so it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients by swapping for nutritious foods low in FODMAPs. The goal isn’t to eliminate FODMAPs forever, but to find an amount that works for you.

Implementing these lifestyle changes can reduce the debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia and restore your quality of life. Starting a new diet or supplement regime without support is not recommended. If you’d like some help with specific elements, or just want support in the process, give us a call.

References:

D’Agnelli S, Arendt-Nielsen L, Gerra MC, et al. Fibromyalgia: Genetics and epigenetics insights may provide the basis for the development of diagnostic biomarkers. Mol Pain. 2019;15:1744806918819944. doi:10.1177/1744806918819944

Bagis, S., Karabiber, M., As, İ. et al. Is magnesium citrate treatment effective on pain, clinical parameters and functional status in patients with fibromyalgia?. Rheumatol Int 33, 167–172 (2013). References:
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Braz AS, Morais LC, Paula AP, Diniz MF, Almeida RN. Effects of Panax ginseng extract in patients with fibromyalgia: a 12-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Braz J Psychiatry. 2013 Mar;35(1):21-8. doi: 10.1016/j.rbp.2013.01.004. PMID: 23567596.

Stival RS, Cavalheiro PR, Stasiak CE, Galdino DT, Hoekstra BE, Schafranski MD. Acupuntura na fibromialgia Galvez-Sánchez CM, Duschek S, Reyes Del Paso GA. Psychological impact of fibromyalgia: current perspectives. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2019;12:117-127. Published 2019 Feb 13. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S178240: um estudo randomizado-controlado abordando a resposta imediata da dor [Acupuncture in fibromyalgia: a randomized, controlled study addressing the immediate pain response]. Rev Bras Reumatol. 2014 Nov-Dec;54(6):431-6. Portuguese. doi: 10.1016/j.rbr.2014.06.001. Epub 2014 Sep 23. PMID: 25458024

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Digestion Problems? These 10 Proven Tips Will Help

“A good digestion turneth all to health.” – George Herbert

Good digestion is essential to our health – and our mood – and when it’s all working smoothly, we tend to take it for granted. It’s not until things go wrong that digestion moves to the forefront of our minds.

If you are someone who suffers with digestive issues such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and nausea, you know that it can quickly become all we think about, affecting every moment of the day. And the discomfort is only the tip of the iceberg. If we’re not digesting food properly, we’re at risk for nutritional deficiencies. That’s because the digestive system is our central “distribution center”, breaking down what we eat and shipping nutrients out to the cells that need them.

Like any supply chain, any broken link can have far-reaching consequences. In addition to the many far-reaching effects of nutrition deficiencies, poor digestion can lead to emotional stress, and even depression due in part to the gut’s role in producing serotonin (our happy hormone).

Digestive Disorders are Increasingly Common

Digestive disorders have risen dramatically in recent years, likely because our fast-paced lifestyles contain many elements that contribute to problems, such as high stress levels, too much time sitting, and poor-quality sleep. The good news is that it’s possible to get your digestion back on track.

By getting to know your own digestive system and experimenting with different lifestyle habits that are known to make a difference to many people, you can figure out that funny tummy, reclaim your social life and feel confident that what you eat is truly nourishing your body.

10 Proven Ways to Help Improve Your Digestion

1. Eat whole, natural foods

Choosing whole foods means opting for the least-processed version whenever possible. Choose an apple over apple pie, for example, or whole grains over refined flour. Not only is this the best way to get all of the essential nutrients, but the additives and excess sugar found in many processed foods can feed the bad bacteria in your gut, contributing to gut irritation, bloating and cramps. Artificial sweeteners are another culprit of poor digestion, since even the so-called “healthy” sweeteners like xylitol have been linked to bloating and diarrhea.

2. Focus on fiber

To understand the myriad of ways fiber promotes digestive health, it’s helpful to distinguish between the two types of fiber:

Soluble fiber

As the name suggests, soluble fiber dissolves in water. When it passes through your body, it absorbs water and other fluids to form a gel-like substance that feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Good sources of soluble fiber include beans, apples, oats, and strawberries.

Insoluble fiber

Because insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve, it helps provide bulk to stools, which helps them move along the digestive tract more easily, contributing to regularity and that sometimes elusive feeling of complete elimination. Good sources include vegetables and many whole grains.

Your diet should contain both types of fiber to promote good digestion and regularity. To increase your overall fiber intake, increase your consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. There are numerous ways to sneak more fiber into your diet, like leaving the peel on potatoes, adding a handful of nuts to a salad, and sprinkling a little freshly ground flaxseed on yogurt. However, if you currently eat a low-fiber diet, be careful not to ramp up your intake too quickly, which can lead to gas and discomfort. And as you introduce increasing amounts of fiber, make sure you’re also drinking more water as the fibre itself absorbs a lot.

3. Stay hydrated

One of the most common culprits for constipation is dehydration. Water helps move things along through your digestive tract in a wave-like muscle movement called peristalsis. However, if your body senses that you need more water elsewhere in the body that takes priority. The lower intestine draws water from your stools to redirect it to other parts of your body such as your muscles or brain, making your stools harder to pass.

Choose your fluids wisely. Sipping on water and herbal teas throughout the day are great options to keep you hydrated. Avoid alcohol, which acts as a diuretic and further dehydrates, as well as sweetened beverages. The jury is still out regarding coffee’s effects on digestion. Some people find it leads to heartburn, but scientists haven’t found a direct causal effect. Coffee does have a laxative effect for many people, and it’s best consumed in moderation.

4. Choose healthy fats

Toss a fiber-rich salad with a bit of olive oil, and stay clear of fat-free dressings. Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts actually help your body absorb nutrients, so don’t be afraid to add them to a meal. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent digestive disorders like Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. Foods high in omega-3 include fatty fish like salmon, chia seeds, hemp hearts and nuts.

5. Reduce stress

Yes, this is easier said than done. But consider this: Your gut has millions of neurons receiving messages from your brain. When you’re under chronic stress, you’re more vulnerable to stomach aches and other upsets. Plus, when you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release more of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol, which can lead to cramping as the body redirects hydration from your intestines to your arms and legs.

Try to create a calm atmosphere for meals, and keep dinner conversation pleasant. Tackle long-term stress by introducing more stress-busting mindful activities such as yoga or walks. Many people have success with meditation, especially practices geared towards digestive issues.

6. Eat mindfully

Part of making mealtimes less stressful can simply mean slowing down. Avoid eating on the go and try to make a policy of eating while sitting down, at a table, instead of in your car or while running to another activity. Turn off the TV and pay attention to the pleasure of a good meal.

Use your senses throughout a meal – taste, smell, textures – food should be enjoyed after all. Savour every bite instead of absent-mindedly snacking while thinking of something else and you’ll improve digestion by preventing overeating to the point of feeling too full.

7. Chew your food well

What’s the rush? When you chew your food, you’re starting the digestive process, so it follows that more chewing breaks down your food more thoroughly. Plus, chewing slowly helps you to focus on your food in a more conscious manner and, in turn, reduces stress. Aim to chew your food 20 – 30 times before swallowing to aid the digestive process.

8. Get moving

It’s simple: When you move, your digestive system moves. That might sound overly simplistic, but scientists have found that exercise can improve the rate at which you digest food. The peristalsis process speeds up with the increase in blood flow and the triggering of various movement receptors in your colon, pushing food through the digestive tract at a regular pace. Exercise also reduces stress, boosts energy, improves mood and heart health.

9. Clean up your habits

You can add “better digestion” to the many reasons to quit smoking and cut down on alcohol consumption. Some smokers feel that smoking helps them stay regular, but like caffeine, that is due to a stimulant effect that can be irritating. Smoking also greatly increases the risk of acid reflux, peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and cancer of the colon. If this is you, we can work with you on creating a health plan to help you cut out smoking – while practicing other good digestion habits – so you won’t feel the need to rely on cigarettes.

10. Maintain the microbiome

Your digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria supporting gut health. Maintaining that microbiome is essential for avoiding digestive problems like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. A healthy gut microbiome is also essential for mental health, as the gut is the main site for the production of our happy hormone, serotonin.

These tips may help you maintain balanced levels of the right kind of gut bacteria:

● Because the microbiome contains many different types of bacteria, be sure to eat a wide variety of foods to help sustain them.
● Good bacteria help digest some types of fibers, so following a high-fiber diet stimulates their growth.
● Fermented foods help replenish good bacteria, so choose foods like unsweetened yogurt, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, and sauerkraut when possible.
● Probiotic supplements may help maintain a good balance in your gut. Research suggests they’re an effective supplement to reduce the symptoms of existing digestive problems, although they may be less effective at preventing problems.

Don’t let digestive problems hold you back from enjoying life. If you’d like to talk about further strategies, or want help creating a plan to implement these tips, give us a call!

References:

Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):188-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x. PMID: 19335713.

Everhart JE, editor. The burden of digestive diseases in the United States. US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2008; NIH Publication No. 09-6443.

Boekema PJ, Samsom M, van Berge Henegouwen GP, Smout AJ. Coffee and gastrointestinal function: facts and fiction. A review. Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl. 1999;230:35-9. doi: 10.1080/003655299750025525. PMID: 10499460.

Oettlé GJ. Effect of moderate exercise on bowel habit. Gut. 1991 Aug;32(8):941-4. doi: 10.1136/gut.32.8.941. PMID: 1885077; PMCID: PMC1378967.

McFarland LV. Use of probiotics to correct dysbiosis of normal microbiota following disease or disruptive events: a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2014 Aug 25;4(8):e005047. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005047. PMID: 25157183; PMCID: PMC4156804.

Staying Balanced During Perimenopause: Five Steps for Success

The scientific explanation of perimenopause sounds so simple: a gradual slowing down of reproductive hormones until menopause. The reality, however, is that for many women the arrival of menopause isn’t a smooth, gliding descent but more of a turbulent landing complete with bumps, twists, and what can feel like the constant threat of a complete crash. That feeling is compounded by the timing, since perimenopause symptoms often begin at a particularly stressful time of life with mounting work and family demands. Add in the physical and emotional effects of hormonal fluctuations, and the entire process can easily start to feel like a cruel joke.

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’re frustrated by symptoms like mood swings, weight gain, and anxiety, start by taking a deep breath. The first step to thriving not just surviving perimenopause is to acknowledge that it is a natural process. Don’t beat yourself up. Now is the time to give your body – and your mind – some love.

How to Recognize Perimenopause

It is interesting to note that some studies show our attitudes towards menopause (and aging in general) can impact how we experience perimenopause symptoms.

Know What to Expect

Knowing what to expect and what triggers perimenopause is important. Sometimes, women are baffled by the changes and blame themselves, telling themselves that they’re not working out hard enough or not coping well with stress. That’s why a good understanding of the changes you’re undergoing is important.

This Phase Can Last Years

Perimenopause symptoms typically begin in the mid-forties and continue for a number of years until full menopause is reached, which is defined as having gone a full year without a menstrual period, marking the cessation of the release of eggs. Over this period, the ovaries’ hormonal production slows down in fits and starts leading to fluctuating levels of estrogen, which creates shifting imbalances in the delicate seesaw of estrogen and progesterone. Earlier in life, estrogen levels are much more predictable with the menstrual cycle.

Signs You May Be in Perimenopause

Symptoms can be subtle at first and easily mistaken for something else. They may increase gradually or you may find they come and go along with your fluctuating hormones, and can include:

● Changes in menstruation, which could include changes in timing (both more frequent or less frequent) and periods that are suddenly much heavier
● Unexplained weight gain, particularly around the midsection
● Depression
● Brain fog
● Hot flashes
● Tender breasts
● Anxiety and panic attacks
● Restless legs
● Insomnia and difficulty staying asleep
● Irritability
● Changes in libido
● Vaginal dryness
● Acne (as if wrinkles weren’t enough to worry about)

5 Ways to Find Balance During Perimenopause

The good news is that several lifestyle changes can help maintain hormonal balance and make it easier to cope with the changes that do occur.

1 – Aim for a Good Night’s Sleep

Ironically, getting restful sleep can become more challenging just when we need it most, and a majority of perimenopausal women report sleep difficulties. Waking up frequently is the most common complaint, often due to hot flashes. As always, a holistic approach helps, as a hormone-supporting diet can help regulate hot flashes.

How You Can Strengthen Your Bedtime Routine?

In addition, it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene:
● Avoid using electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.
● Avoid caffeine, large meals, and vigorous exercise in the evening.
● Build a predictable wind-down routine into your evenings.
● Keep your bedroom temperature on the cooler side for better sleep.
● Avoid synthetic materials in bedding and sleepwear in favor of natural fabrics like cotton or linen.

Since melatonin production slows with age, melatonin supplements may be necessary. A healthcare practitioner can help assess the need for supplements.

2 – Address Your Stress

The stress hormone cortisol rises with age, which is partly to blame for the increase in belly fat many women experience during perimenopause. Taking proactive steps to reduce stress will help get a handle on cortisol levels.

Find Out What Works Best for You
Adequate sleep helps to lower cortisol, as does gentle, mindful activity such as yoga or tai chi. In fact, studies have found that mindful activities can reduce hot flashes, which will favorably impact sleep, which in turn may help to reduce belly fat – it’s all connected!

3 – Get Moving

Regular exercise helps with stress, reduces body fat, and improves your overall quality of life. It’s important to acknowledge, however, that what worked in your 20s and 30s may not be as effective at this stage of life.

Consider Reducing the Intensity
Somewhat ironically, overly intense exercise can overtax your body and result in an increase in cortisol. Remember those stress tips above? That’s why it’s important to find a form of exercise that works for you. Don’t feel pressure to do high-intensity workouts if your body responds better to lower-intensity programs like Pilates or walking. Because everybody is different, it may take a bit of trial and error to find what works for you. The best exercise is always the one that you will stick to, and the one that gives you joy instead of adding to your stress levels.

4 – Eat a Hormone-Supportive Diet

The concept of being gentle with your body during perimenopause extends to your diet. At this stage in life, you should focus on foods that support hormonal balance and provide nourishment. The three pillars of a healthy perimenopause diet are:

Protein
You start to lose muscle with age, so it’s important to counteract that adequate protein to retain muscle mass. Choose lean proteins, including some plant-based sources like chickpeas and lentils.

Fiber
A slowed metabolism may also slow down digestion. This may lead to constipation and foods hanging around longer causing fermentation = gas and bloating. Fibre helps food move smoothly through the bowels and also helps us feel fuller for longer, limiting cravings. Fibre can be found in loads of foods from flaxseed, chia seed, beans and legumes to spinach, broccoli, apples and pears.

Fat
Healthy fats, like Omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce hot flashes and may boost mood, according to some studies. Good sources of Omega-3 include salmon, hemp seeds, and flax seeds.

5 – Manage your Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

High blood sugar can exacerbate hot flashes and other perimenopausal symptoms. This can be a bit of a vicious cycle, since changing hormonal levels can actually raise the production of the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar. It’s crucial to limit consumption of processed carbohydrates and sweet drinks during perimenopause, as insulin resistance becomes more commonplace. Fiber and protein can help preserve insulin sensitivity, so instead of a quick hit of something sweet for a snack, look for more satiating foods like nuts or whole grains.

A lot is happening during perimenopause for many women – career, family, decisions about the future – but taking some time to focus on your own health will help you feel empowered with the changes in your body.

If you are looking for extra support or experiencing hormonal issues and would like to dive deeper into what’s going on and the best natural course of action give us a call. As naturopathic doctors we can help guide you in this transition in a healthy and holistic way.

Resources:

Sleep problems during the menopausal transition: prevalence, impact, and management challenges
Nat Sci Sleep. 2018 – Fiona C Baker,corresponding author1,2 Massimiliano de Zambotti,1 Ian M Colrain,1,3 and Bei Bei

Melatonin, human aging, and age-related diseases
Exp Gerontol. Nov-Dec 2004 – M Karasek

Mindfulness Training for Coping with Hot Flashes: Results of a Randomized Trial
Menopause. 2011 – James Carmody, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine,corresponding author Sybil Crawford, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, M.D., Doctoral Fellow, et al

Cortisol Levels during the Menopausal Transition and Early Postmenopause: Observations from the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study
Menopause 2009 – Nancy Fugate Woods, PhD, RN, FAAN, Ellen Sullivan Mitchell, PhD, and Kathleen Smith-DiJulio, PhD, RN

The role of calcium in peri-and postmenopausal women: consensus opinion of The North American Menopause Society – Menopause 2001 – The North American Menopause Society

DEPRESSION AND EMOTIONAL ASPECTS OF THE MENOPAUSE – BCMJ, October 2001 By: Diana Carter, MBBS

Omega-3 fatty acids for major depressive disorder associated with the menopausal transition: a preliminary open trial – PMC 2011 – Marlene P. Freeman, MD,1 Joseph R. Hibbeln, MD,2 Michael Silver, MS et al

Vasomotor symptoms and insulin resistance in the study of women’s health across the nation, J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 – Rebecca C Thurston 1, Samar R El Khoudary et al

Seasonal Allergies: Reduce Your Symptoms for Peace of Mind.

You’ve been careful for over a year now. Social distancing is so ingrained in your consciousness that you do a double-take when you see old concert footage on TV. You’ve grown to appreciate the benefits of face masks (no need to worry if there’s a bit of spinach in your teeth, protection from the wind or that random pimple on your chin). Your bubble is airtight, and you’ve finally figured out the most flattering Zoom camera angle.

So why do you feel like you’re sick, when you’ve done everything right? Watering eyes, runny nose, sneeze attacks? Is it time to self-isolate? What if you sneeze in the grocery store line-up? After all, there is no bigger social faux right now than an unexpected public sneeze. Should you have a COVID-19 test?

An Unusual Year for Allergies

Even at the best of times, seasonal allergy symptoms are inconvenient and annoying. Add in the very understandable fear of COVID-19, and allergy sufferers experience extra stress, which is never a good thing when trying to stay healthy. It’s more important than ever to practice a seasonal allergy reducing lifestyle this spring, to alleviate stress and keep yourself healthy and strong. Plus, many of the lifestyle measures that reduce allergies improve your overall health and wellness.

The sneakiness of seasonal allergies

It’s not surprising that allergy sufferers worry about COVID, since some of the symptoms are very similar. Seasonal allergies can cause:

● A runny nose
● Watery eyes
● Coughing
● Wheezing
● Headaches
● Post-nasal drip
● Shortness of breath
● Reduced sense of taste or smell

These symptoms often appear in the spring, when trees begin pollinating. Pollen in the air can trigger our bodies to release the powerful chemical histamine, which leads to allergy symptoms.

Invisible Spring Pollen

Contrary to popular belief, allergy triggers at this time of the year are usually tree pollen, not pollen from flowers, and they’re often not visible to the naked eye. To further complicate matters, the start of spring allergy season can vary by year, so allergy sufferers often don’t realize it has begun until symptoms appear. It’s also important to note that allergies of any kind can develop later in life, so if you’ve sailed through spring in the past, but suddenly notice you’re sniffling, seasonal allergies could be the cause.

Regional Variations

The types of pollen in the air vary by region, with different types of trees contributing. Birch, oak, and ragweed are common culprits, each producing its own distinct pollen. As a result, there’s no single catch-all solution, or even one simple diagnostic procedure, for pollen allergies.

Changing Times

Interestingly, seasonal allergies seem to be on the rise. Climate change may be to blame, as higher temperatures can increase pollen production. A 2019 study in the Lancet showed significant increases in the pollen count and a longer pollen season across the northern hemisphere, and although the average in North America hovers between 10 and 25 percent of the population, pollen seasons vary between locations and from year to year. In fact, a 2017 Statistics Canada study found that 40 percent of Canadians reported pollen or grass allergies – that’s a lot of congested people.

5 Steps to Help Reduce Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Fortunately, science is providing more information about preventing and reducing seasonal allergy symptoms. Check out some easily adapted lifestyle tips below.

1 – Reduce Stress

We get it: Life is stressful right now. However, the irony is that stress can exacerbate allergy symptoms, which in turn creates more stress. To end this cycle, take proactive steps to bring down the pressure.

Studies have found that meditation and yoga have a positive impact on allergy symptoms. Getting enough sleep is also important. Of course, allergies can also interfere with sleep, since it’s hard to fall asleep with a stuffy nose. Sleeping with the windows closed can help keep pollen out to preserve your indoor air quality.

2 – Keep Indoor Pollen Under Control

In addition to keeping your windows closed, small changes in your daily routine can help reduce the amount of pollen in your home. Consider this: When you’re outside, you’re often surrounded by tree pollen which can rest on your clothes, hair, and skin, so you need to take special measures to get rid of it.

Have a quick shower when you first come home at the end of the day, and launder your clothes frequently after spending time outside. Investing in a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) air filter and vacuuming with a HEPA filter will also help keep the air cleaner.

Although we want to avoid pollen, getting outside is still important for mental and physical health, particularly while we’re still avoiding indoor gatherings. Try to schedule walks following a rainfall, when the air will be clearer.

3 – Reduce Other Airborne Irritants

Perfumes, air fresheners, scented candles, aerosol sprays, conventional cleaning products, dust and cigarette smoke are all irritants commonly found in the home that can make your nasal passages and eyes more vulnerable to reactions to pollen. Keeping your home with natural, non-toxic cleaners or even steam-cleaning will help reduce the overall load on your mucus membranes.

4 – Eat Antihistamine Superfoods

Certain foods can help bring down systemic inflammation and slow the production of histamine. Eating a well-balanced, whole foods diet with plenty of vegetables, healthy fats and low in sugar is a great starting point – and including some of these antihistamine superfoods can be effective too:

Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Foods high in omega-3, such as fresh salmon, chia seeds, and flax seeds.

Pineapple and Papaya
Vitamin C found in many fruits can inhibit histamine and support the immune system, but some fruit contain enzymes that actively reduce antihistamines in the bloodstream. Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, and papaya contains papain.

Spices
Certain spices can act as decongestants. Ginger, in particular, is effective in reducing nasal symptoms. Early research suggests that curcumin, which is found in turmeric, can also ease the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

5 – Consider Nutritional Supplements

Research is uncovering new beneficial treatments for seasonal allergies and rediscovering the benefits of traditional remedies.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent worldwide, and with its roles in anything from inflammation to immune support and bone health, supplementing with vitamin D is widely recommended. Recent studies looking at the effect vitamin D supplementation has on seasonal allergies found that participants who took vitamin D reported a reduction in symptoms compared to those who took a placebo.

Herbal Remedies
Stinging nettle is a herb that is often used in natural medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. In a 2000 study, half of the participants who took a stinging nettle supplement reported a reduction in seasonal allergy symptoms, and almost 2/3rds felt better.

Antioxidants
Quercetin, an antioxidant flavonoid found in brightly coloured produce like berries and kale, also helps reduce the body’s production of histamine.

If you’re struggling to get seasonal allergies under control, give us a call. A naturopathic doctor can run lab tests to gain specific information on your allergies. Together, we can create a customized plan that will give you peace of mind as we move into spring and summer.

Resources:

Perceived stress predicts allergy flares – Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology – Amber M. Patterson, MD, Vedat O. Yildiz, MS, Maryanna D. Klatt, PhD, William B., Malarkey, MD Published:August 08, 2013

Sleep and allergic disease: A summary of the literature and future directions for research – Daphne Koinis-Mitchell, PhD,a Timothy Craig, DO,b Cynthia A. Esteban, MSN, MPH,a and Robert B. Klein, MDa, J Allergy Clin Immunol. Dec 2012

Antihistamine effect of supplemental ascorbic acid and neutrophil chemotaxis, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, April 1992

Immunomodulatory effects of curcumin in allergy, Sep 2008, Food Res. Molecular Nutrition & Food ResearchViswanath P Kurup 1, Christy S Barrios

Inhibitory effect of honeybee-collected pollen on mast cell degranulation in vivo and in vitro, Journal of Medicinal Food, Mar 2008, Yasuko Ishikawa 1, Tomoko Tokura, Nobuhiro Nakano, Mutsuko Hara, François Niyonsaba, Hiroko Ushio, Yuji Yamamoto, Tadahiro Tadokoro, Ko Okumura, Hideoki Ogawa

Temperature-related changes in airborne allergenic pollen abundance and seasonality across the northern hemisphere: a retrospective data analysis – The Lancet Planetary Health, March 2019 – Lewis H Ziska, PhD , Prof László Makra, PhD, Susan K Harry, AAS, Nicolas Bruffaerts, PhD, Marijke Hendrickx, PhD, Frances Coates, MS, et al.

Vitamin D in allergic disease: Shedding light on a complex problem, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology – Feb 2013 – Beda Muehleisen, MD, Richard L. Gallo, MD, PhD

Quercetin with the potential effect on allergic diseases, Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology May 2020 Morteza Jafarinia, Mahnaz Sadat Hosseini, Neda kasiri, Niloofar Fazel, Farshid Fathi, Mazdak Ganjalikhani Hakemi & Nahid Eskandari

Vitamin D and the development of allergic disease: how important is it?
Hooman Mirzakhani, MD,1,2 Amal Al-Garawi, PhD, MMSc,1,2 Scott T. Weiss, MD, MS,1,2,4 and Augusto A. Litonjua, MD, MPH

Statistics Canada Health Fact Sheets – Chronic Conditions, 2017

Hypothyroid? You May Want to Check for Food Sensitivities

By now, you’ve likely heard about gluten intolerance. The buzz word “gluten-free” is everywhere in the health world. But how impactful is gluten? For those with thyroid issues, it may be affecting you more than you realize.

Thyroid Conditions Are Fairly Common

About 20 million Americans are currently suffering from a form of thyroid disease. And roughly 60% don’t know it. Thyroid disorders are particularly common in women with one in eight females going on to develop a thyroid condition within her lifespan, and women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid issues than men.

Your Thyroid Can Be Under or Over Performing

A malfunctioning thyroid can lead to either over or under-production of thyroid hormones. These hormones — called T3 and T4 — affect every organ system in your body.

Your heart, central nervous system, autonomic nervous system, bone, gastro-intestinal tract and metabolism all obey the orders of our thyroid hormones.

A Holistic Approach

Whether the issue is hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Grave’s disease, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the symptoms of thyroid issues can vary in severity from moderate to life-changing. That’s why naturopathic practitioners take a holistic approach to tackle thyroid issues from all angles – and that includes nutrition.

The Gluten Intolerance Link

Recent research links gluten intolerance and auto-immune issues, meaning if an auto-immune condition is the underlying cause of your thyroid disorder, your relationship with gluten may be an exacerbating factor. This connection happens so often that some studies suggest gluten intolerance screening for anyone with auto-immune thyroid issues.

Auto-Immune Thyroid Issues

If you have an auto-immune thyroid issue, eliminating gluten entirely is critical to fully understanding your condition. Even eating small amounts can cause immune reactions lasting up to six months, so complete elimination is needed in order to notice any difference in your symptoms.

Gluten-free diets can be tricky to maintain, but the results are worth the trouble. Your gluten intake may be the critical factor affecting the function (or auto-destruction) of your thyroid.

How Does Gluten Lead to Autoimmunity?

When you ignore food sensitivities, your gut often pays the price in inflammation. Over time, inflammatory foods (like gluten) can degrade the delicate lining of your small intestine, leading to permeability or “leaky gut”. When this happens, food particles are able to slip past the protective mucosal layer, between the cells lining the intestinal wall, and reach your bloodstream. The protein portion of gluten — called gliadin — is a common culprit.

Mistaken Identity

The immune system targets these proteins as foreign particles and begins to attack them. Unfortunately, gliadin protein molecules are strikingly similar to the molecules that make up the thyroid gland. Once antibodies to gliadin are created, they can mistakenly attack thyroid tissue. From that point on, you have an auto-immune response to gluten.

A Gluten Intolerance Can Be Hidden

Many people misinterpret gluten intolerance as a “digestive” issue only. But it can affect far more than just the digestive system. Antibodies triggered by this kind of gluten intolerance travel throughout the whole body: the joints, skin, respiratory tract and brain can all be affected. In fact, for some people affected, no digestive symptoms are seen at all. With a wide variety of possible symptoms, gluten sensitivity may take a lot of effort to uncover.

Other Grains Can Mimic Gluten

As if the situation wasn’t complex enough, once the antibodies for gluten have been created, they can mistakenly attack other proteins too. Certain grains, such as corn, oats and rice, are naturally gluten-free yet their proteins are so similar to gluten that they occasionally still elicit an immune response. A naturopathic doctor can help you identify which foods may trigger your gluten sensitivity.

Casein Sensitivity May Also be an Issue

Lactose intolerance is much more common than gluten intolerance. However, the two often overlap. In one study in Italy, roughly 25% of people with lactose intolerance also had celiac disease, a digestive condition that is linked to gluten-related autoimmunity.

This means that for many people, going gluten-free won’t be enough to get to the root of their auto-immune symptoms. If an intolerance to casein (the main protein in dairy) may be at play, patients are often advised to adopt both a dairy-free and gluten-free diet during the elimination phase, with dairy being added back separately to assess casein sensitivity.

How We Test for Gluten Intolerance

There are multiple ways to test for food sensitivities and ascertain whether gluten intolerance may be playing a part in your thyroid issues.

Testing for Antibodies in the Blood

Running a food sensitivity panel is one way to start learning what is going on. Although they are expensive to run, and do not always lead to a clear path of action other than the complete avoidance of the foods in question, these blood tests can be vital guideposts in the dark for tricky cases.

IgA and IgG

Both IgA and IgG antibodies are tested. These antibodies are created in response to gluten particles in the bloodstream. IgA and IgG are delayed-response antibodies — they aren’t created immediately, making them a good indicator of a long term sensitivity to gluten. However, a milder case of gluten sensitivity (when antibodies haven’t been created) may be missed, and false negatives can occur if a patient is currently avoiding gluten.

Creating a Benchmark

Your naturopathic doctor may advise running a food sensitivity panel before you begin an elimination diet so that you have a benchmark to work with. While eliminating gluten and dairy are the most common requests, you may be asked to remove one or more other foods based on the results of your food sensitivity panel so that other potential problem foods don’t interfere with the success of your elimination phase.

The Gluten Challenge

Hypo-allergenic diets may be the most powerful tool a naturopathic doctor can prescribe, but no bones about it: these diets can be very difficult and take a long time. The hidden benefit is that the diet you are on during the investigation eliminates your possible triggers, so you should start to feel better right away, even as you uncover the details of your sensitivity.

Luckily, when it comes to auto-immune conditions, removing dairy and gluten are often the main dietary requirements and there are many alternative foods available.

The Elimination Phase

For anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on your individual situation, you’ll remove all dairy and gluten from your diet. During this time, you’ll keep a close eye on your symptoms to see if they resolve or reduce dramatically. If symptoms don’t resolve, you may be asked to remove additional foods: like eggs or soy.

The Challenge Phase

Once your symptoms resolve, you’ll reintroduce each food one at a time. Let’s say dairy first. You’ll have dairy in every meal for three or four days while keeping note of any symptoms or sensitivity reactions. Then you’ll be instructed to stop eating dairy for three days.

If there are no reactions during elimination or in the final phase, a dairy sensitivity can be ruled out. At that point, you can safely add dairy back into your diet.

A Positive Result

Next, you will begin the challenge phase for gluten. Let’s say you did have a symptom response to gluten. At that point, you would be instructed to eliminate gluten from your diet for another three to six months before attempting the challenge again. After a longer break, some food sensitivities are no longer as offensive.

If – on the other hand – your symptoms did return when you reintroduced gluten, your naturopathic doctor may diagnose you with gluten intolerance.

The health of your thyroid affects every cell in your body. If you suspect an autoimmune condition may be affecting how well you feel, please give us a call. As naturopathic doctors we have access to a wide array of investigative tools and lab tests to help you uncover what’s really going on – and come up with a tailored plan to help you feel like yourself again.

Resources:
Fatourechi V. Subclinical hypothyroidism: an update for primary care physicians. Mayo Clinic proceedings.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664572/ . Published 2009.

General Information/Press Room. Published 2014. American Thyroid Association. https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/

Ojetti V; Nucera G;Migneco A; Gabrielli M; Lauritano C; Danese S; Zocco MA; Nista EC;Cammarota G;De Lorenzo A;Gasbarrini G;Gasbarrini A; High prevalence of celiac disease in patients with lactose intolerance. Digestion.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15775678/ . Published 2005.

Shahid MA. Physiology, Thyroid Hormone. StatPearls.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500006/ . Published May 18, 2020.

Bad Breath: What You Need to Know

Been smelling your own breath lately with all the mask-wearing? The harsh realities of the odors coming from our mouths have come front and center these days. Tic Tacs, mints and chewing gum… can’t fix a true breath problem.

While bad breath (also known as halitosis) isn’t often a symptom of disease per se, it can affect our overall well-being as well as our psychology, work life and relationships. So let’s look into why you (or someone you know) may be dealing with halitosis — and how to fix it!

6 Reasons You Might Have Bad Breath

There are several potential causes of bad breath. Commonly, it’s very simply down to a lack of oral hygiene which may be easy enough to fix. But sometimes there are deeper issues at play. We’ll start by exploring the more benign reasons for bad breath, then cover how and when it may be a red flag for more serious issues.

1 – You May Be Eating Pungent Foods

This will not come as a surprise, but certain foods are linked to transient oral malodor (or temporary bad breath). Garlic, onions and spicy food are common culprits. Sulphur compounds in these foods are particularly high, and when chewing, the bacteria in your saliva release these sulphur compounds from your food.

Volatile Sulphur Compounds (VSC)

Released by the mechanics of chewing and chemically by digestive enzymes, and no longer bound up in the food you ate, these volatile sulphur compounds quickly turn gaseous. Once able to mix with the air, volatile sulphur compounds (VSC) can exit your mouth via the breath.

Tobacco, coffee and alcohol may also perform this foul-smelling trick. It varies, but you may notice a change in breath odour for several hours. (And likely so will your family members, friends and co-workers…)

2 – You May Have Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities can also contribute to halitosis – and lactose intolerance is a perfect example of this. When the body can’t digest the sugars in milk, the microbes that feast on those particular undigested sugars put off a sulphurous pungent odor that can be smelled on the breath.

Leaky Gut

Further down the system, improperly broken down food can make its way into your bloodstream. Normally, the gut lining works to prevent this. But in situations of chronic food sensitivity and ongoing inflammation, the protective mucosal lining of the digestive system becomes permeable.

Toxins in the bloodstream

Escaped food particles act as toxins in our blood. As the accumulation of toxins builds, we may start to notice symptoms that include bad breath. Your naturopathic doctor can help you identify any existing food sensitivities, work with you to restore your gut lining, and (as a welcome side effect) get rid of chronic bad breath.

3 – The Bacteria in Your Mouth May be Out of Balance

The mouth is an area rife with microbes and bacteria. Many of them play important roles in the first step of the digestive process. Others, such as gram-negative bacteria (like Enterobacteriaceae) take up residence under the tongue, in plaque and in the deep creases between our teeth and gums where they interact with each other, giving rise to halitosis.

No single bacterial species is to blame for bad breath, but together these bacteria cause Volatile Sulphur Compounds to be released. Some of the bacteria that thrive in the depths of the gum line can cause gum diseases such as pericoronitis or periodontal abscess, which can increase the volume of Volatile Sulphur Compounds released even more.

The Diamine Difference & Gum Disease

As we dive deeper under the gums, we see less oxygen and a lower (i.e. more acidic) pH. This acidic pH creates those smelly diamines. When food-trapping gum pockets arise due to gum disease, regular amino acids from the trapped food are converted into diamines.

When that happens, we (and those close to us) smell the difference.

4 – Your Mouth May Be Chronically Dry

Having a dry mouth, no matter the cause, is a serious issue. It’s not only uncomfortable but if the condition is ongoing it prevents the important cleansing function whereby saliva flushes bacteria out of the mouth.

Why We Get A Dry Mouth

Oral dryness can cause discomfort for a number of reasons beyond the obvious (and easy to rectify) dehydration. Mouth breathing is a common culprit, often arising from an obstruction of the sinuses and nasal cavity, and causing increased airflow and subsequent dryness in the mouth. Salivary glands may be infected, blocked or malfunctioning. And many medications also have a dry mouth listed among their side effects.

The Role of Saliva

Saliva is your mouth’s best friend. It helps wash out the mouth, reducing bacteria and preventing tooth decay, gum disease and plaque formation in the mouth. As oral bacteria have been found to have made their way to the arterial plaque of heart disease patients as well as causing issues in the mouth, we know that avoiding a chronically dry mouth is a whole-body problem – with bad breath acting as a red flag.

5 – You May Have a Yeast Overgrowth

If a candida yeast overgrowth appears in the mouth, deeper factors are often at play in the body. A healthy immune system prevents this fungus from taking root and growing. The candida species is commonly found in and on your body, but it seizes the opportunity to grow when the immunity is vulnerable.

In the case of bad breath, this underlying immune dysfunction alters the balance between your immune system and oral microbes. Candida and other microbes proliferate. Volatile Sulphur Compounds and methyl mercaptan (another player in the malodour scene) are then produced and released.

6 – You May have Ear, Nose and Throat Problems

While 90% of halitosis cases arise from the mouth alone, other systems can also be involved: Calcium deposits in the tonsils can cause a 10-fold increase in Volatile Sulphur Compound levels if they are overloaded; foreign bodies in the nose (often seen in children) are slowly dismantled by bacteria, resulting in breath odour; and infected sinuses can leak pus on the back of the tongue.

While bad breath is typically transient (think: morning breath) it can linger. For those dealing with chronic halitosis, you know just how impactful it can be.

But don’t worry. Your naturopathic doctor can help you battle your bad breath.

The Importance of Oral Hygiene

Oral hygiene is paramount when treating halitosis. Brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups are the foundation of good oral health. Unchecked cavities, gum disease and other dental pathologies must be addressed if you want to achieve better-smelling breath and the health benefits that come with it.

But it is important to remember that the mouth is a delicate area, it is the starting point of a carefully balanced digestive system which requires a fine balance of moisture and bacteria to work optimally.

Mouthwash

Gurgling with mouthwash is a powerful tool in your halitosis arsenal. Anti-bacterial agents flush unwanted microbes from the crevices of your teeth, tongue and gums. However, conventional products typically include an array of irritating ingredients as well.

Irritating Ingredients in Conventional Mouthwash

Artificial food dyes make mouthwash look good on a shelf, but these components can be detrimental to your mouth (and body). All nine FDA- approved artificial food dyes are linked to various health concerns. These range from sensitivities all the way to cancer.

Meanwhile, acidic stabilizing agents and alcohol can strip your teeth of and temporarily soften the enamel (make sure to brush before using mouthwash and not after for this reason).

A Better Way to Rinse

Herbal mouthwash is a safer (yet effective) approach. The right combination of botanicals can deliver multiple beneficial medicinal actions. Peppermint, for instance, is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and helps to increase salvation. A handful of herbs and essential oils can combat bad breath on multiple fronts.

Additionally, unlike the antibacterial agents found in conventional mouthwash, these herbal ingredients don’t kill as many of the good bacteria, preserving a balance.

Oil Pulling

Oil pulling – a traditional remedy originating in India – has many therapeutic benefits. An organic oil, such as coconut or sesame, is swished around in the mouth for about 20 minutes. During this period, antioxidants in the oil break down the cell walls of harmful bacteria, effectively killing them. These bacteria stick to the oil and are “pulled” out of your mouth.

There are many benefits to oil pulling. By reducing the formation of plaque, this technique can help prevent dental cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis and, of course, bad breath.

Tongue Hygiene

While odorous bacteria are often in the gums, poor tongue hygiene also poses a problem.

The back of the tongue in particular is a source of concern. Large papillae (bumps on the tongue often containing multiple taste buds) trap particles and microorganisms that lead to bad breath. A backlog of white blood cells, saliva constituents and flakes of dead cells may all be found here – even in those with otherwise good oral hygiene.

While tongue scraping gives some short term relief, recent studies show the benefit over time is minor. Cleansing your tongue (gently and regularly) won’t cause any harm. If you’re struggling with bad breath, it may be worth a shot. But remember: there are other options.

Healthy Habits To Reduce Bad Breath

For many cases of chronic bad breath, sticking to a few simple lifestyle habits can achieve great benefits:

● Reduce your sugar intake
● Check for food sensitivities (especially dairy and wheat)
● Drink plenty of water
● Practice good oral hygiene
● Eat an alkalizing diet (including raw apples and spinach)
● Increase your intake of probiotic foods
● Drink more green tea

In some cases, further investigation may be warranted. Underlying medical conditions — like sinus infections, acid reflux and diabetes — may be contributing factors to halitosis, so it is important to check in with your naturopathic doctor for the right testing and to tailor a health plan specifically for you.

Let’s face it. Chronic bad breath can put a damper on social life without you even knowing it!

Resources:

Kapoor U, Sharma G, Juneja M, Nagpal A. Halitosis: Current concepts on etiology, diagnosis and management. Eur J Dent. 2016;10(2):292-300. doi:10.4103/1305-7456.178294

Kobylewski S, Jacobson MF. Toxicology of food dyes. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2012 Jul-Sep;18(3):220-46. doi: 10.1179/1077352512Z.00000000034. PMID: 23026007.

Koga, Chihiro & Yoneda, Masahiro & Nakayama, Keisuke & Yokoue, Satoru & Haraga, Mariko & Oie, Tomoko & Suga, Arisa & Okada, Fumiko & Matsuura, Hiroshi & Tsue, Fumitake & Taniguchi, Nao & Hirofuji, Takao. (2014). The Detection of Candida Species in Patients with Halitosis. International journal of dentistry. 2014. 857647. 10.1155/2014/857647.

Munch R, Barringer SA. Deodorization of garlic breath volatiles by food and food components. J Food Sci. 2014 Apr;79(4):C526-33. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12394. Epub 2014 Mar 4. PMID: 24592995.

Porter SR, Scully C. Oral malodour (halitosis). BMJ (Clinical research ed.).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1570844/ . Published September 23, 2006.

Shanbhag VKL. Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198813/ . Published June 6, 2016.

Your Stomach Issues May Be Due to This Tiny Parasite

Have you heard of Helicobacter Pylori? Research tells us that this ancient bacteria may actually be beneficial for some, but for others, it causes digestive symptoms that range from miserable to lethal.

An active H. Pylori infection can go unnoticed for years, so uncovering this crafty bacteria early is the key to avoiding complications down the road. The good news is that H. Pylori is relatively simple to treat once it has been diagnosed. With the help of your doctor, you can combat this tricky bug and restore your gut to ideal functioning.

What Is H. Pylori?

Helicobacter Pylori is a small, spiral-shaped bacteria often seen in the gut. This unassuming bug is quite common and often asymptomatic. It can even be considered a “normal” member of the gut flora. However, when your gut balance is off and H.Pylori proliferate unchecked, it can lead to disastrous results such as ulcers and even cancer.

A Very Common Bacteria
While widespread, many people aren’t aware they have Helicobacter Pylori. Its asymptomatic nature makes it very easy for it to hide. Many times the infection occurs in childhood and persists untreated. It is estimated that up to 50% of people have H. Pylori in their gut. In developing countries, this number jumps even higher — up to 70%.

What Damage can H. Pylori Cause?

Beneath the surface, H. Pylori causes chronic low-grade inflammation in the lining of the digestive system it inhabits. Eventually, this inflammation (called gastritis) starts causing symptoms such as an upset stomach, pain, hiccups, or belching.

Peptic Ulcer
In 10-15% of cases, an H. Pylori infection can develop into a gastric (aka peptic) ulcer. Symptoms of a gastric ulcer include:

● Dull, sharp, or burning pain in the abdomen
● Nausea and vomiting
● Weight loss

Stomach Cancer
This pervasive bacteria is uniquely capable of causing cancer growth. Infections of H. Pylori are the single greatest risk factor for developing gastric cancer. MALT lymphoma (a lymphatic cancer associated with the mucous membrane of the stomach) is also a major concern.

Long Term Health Consequences of H. Pylori
Our bodies respond to an H. Pylori attack by creating inflammation. In some cases, this inflammatory response can lead to insulin resistance, iron-deficiency anemia, or heart disease.

Through this inflammatory process, H. Pylori has also been linked to leaky gut, skin diseases, obesity, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

How Do You Get H. Pylori?

Kissing
For many, H. Pylori transmission occurs orally. The infection is transferred by sharing unwashed utensils or kissing (called an “oral-oral route of transmission”). Sexual transmission is also possible.

Contaminated Water
Another method of transmission is water that has been contaminated with fecal matter and is unknowingly swallowed – this can happen when swimming in lakes or streams.

Animals
Interestingly, H. Pylori is a zoonotic bacteria; it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Sheep, goats, cows, and cats can transfer the infection via both milk and feces.

No matter the cause, it’s important to resolve an H. Pylori infection to avoid further complications. If you’re concerned you may have H. Pylori, reach out to your doctor for testing.

Testing for H. Pylori

There are several ways to test for H. Pylori:
● Urea breath test
● Stool antigen test
● Scope test and biopsy
● Blood testing

Breath Testing
The urea breath test is the most common method of diagnosing an H. Pylori infection. Carbon molecules are placed in a liquid, pill, or pudding solution and ingested by the patient. If Helicobacter pylori are present, the tagged carbon is released by the bacteria’s urease enzymes during digestion. The carbon is then detectable in your breath.

Stool Testing
A stool antigen test can determine if H. Pylori antigens are present in your digestive tract. (An antigen is a foreign particle that stimulates our immune system.) There are numerous types of stool tests, but it is important to make sure that your antigen test specifically confirms the presence of H. Pylori bacteria.

While a urea breath test or stool antigen test are preferred for detecting H. Pylori, there are other methods:

Biopsy
Your doctor can take a biopsy after placing a scope into your digestive tract. This small sample of tissue is then sent to a lab for investigation. While invasive, a biopsy can definitively diagnose H. Pylori.

Blood
Blood testing is the least effective method of uncovering or keeping track of an ongoing H. Pylori infection. This is because our immune system develops antibodies to fight antigens that remain in the blood long after the infection clears.

So a blood sample can’t distinguish between previous infections or a current case of H. Pylori.

How Does H. Pylori Survive?

H. Pylori Alters Stomach Acidity
H. Pylori is a hardy bacteria that has adapted to survive by changing the high acidity of the stomach. The urease enzyme released by H. Pylori (mentioned above) alters your stomach acid to create a more favorable environment. By reducing this acidity, thereby reducing how effective the stomach is at initiating the digestive process, the bacteria can survive comfortably in your gut.

H. Pylori Burrows Into the Gut Lining
H. Pylori is also mobile. A long whip-like tail — called a flagellate — helps the bacteria careen toward the gut lining. Once it lands, this acidophilic (acid-loving) bacteria burrows deep into the lining of the stomach and locks in place, quickly colonizing the gut lining.

How Does H. Pylori Spread In the Body?

From the safety of the gut lining, H. Pylori releases toxins. These toxins attack and kill stomach cells. But the bacteria doesn’t stop there. It detaches from its previous position and migrates forward to kill more cells. One by one, holes begin to form in the gut lining.

Our immune system notices and fights back. This leads to more inflammation and gut damage.

While H. Pylori largely inhabits the lower portion of the stomach (the antrum), it can also make its way to the intestines. The duodenum, the first portion of the small intestine that is closest to the stomach, is often affected.

How Do You Treat H. Pylori?

Step 1: See Your MD
It can be tricky to treat an H. Pylori infection as this bacteria is very adaptable. To combat the potential for resistance, a cocktail of multiple antibiotics under the supervision of your medical doctor is usually necessary. Treatment varies considerably depending on whether the infection has progressed to peptic ulcers or other gastric issues.

Step 2: Once H. Pylori is Gone, the Healing Starts
Once you have successfully eradicated the problem, it is vital to do the necessary work to bring your body back into balance. A Naturopathic Doctor can help you to replenish your gut microbiome after the heavy antibiotic treatment.

Your practitioner is also well equipped to help soothe and heal the damage H. Pylori may have caused to the lining of your stomach and small intestine, as well as uncovering and addressing any auto-immune issues that may have developed.

If you suspect you have H. Pylori, don’t hesitate to contact your health care professional. Working in conjunction with your medical doctor and naturopathic doctor is your best line of defence for eradicating the bacteria and preventing serious damage.

References:

Bravo D, Hoare A, Soto C, Valenzuela MA, Quest AF. Helicobacter pylori in human health and disease: Mechanisms for local gastric and systemic effects. World J Gastroenterol. 2018;24(28):3071-3089. doi:10.3748/wjg.v24.i28.3071

Diaconu S, Predescu A, Moldoveanu A, Pop CS, Fierbințeanu-Braticevici C. Helicobacter pylori infection: old and new. J Med Life. 2017;10(2):112-117.

Ghasemian Safaei, Hajieh & Rahimi, Ebrahim & Zandi, Ashkan & Rashidipour, Alireza. (2011). Helicobacter pylori as a zoonotic infection: The detection of H. pylori antigens in the milk and faeces of cows. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. 16. 184-7.

Parikh NS, Ahlawat R. Helicobacter Pylori. [Updated 2020 Aug 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan.

Naturopathic Support for Arthritis

If you’ve ever suffered from joint pain, you know how much of a headache it is. All the aches and pains of arthritis make moving your joints unnecessarily difficult, and the prospect of your symptoms worsening over time is daunting, to say the least.

What if I told you there are therapies available that are both natural and effective?

In this article, we’ll take a look at what the latest research says about supporting arthritis naturally.

What is Arthritis?

There are a number of reasons arthritis can develop: from autoimmunity to gout, infectious bacteria, and even Lyme disease… the list goes on, and there are as many varying symptoms as there are causes.

Today, we’ll focus on the two main categories of arthritic pain:
● Autoimmune
● Degenerative

Autoimmune Arthritis

Autoimmune arthritis is what we see in Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, and Lupus.

These conditions are systemic — meaning the entire body is affected. Inflammation courses throughout the body and disturbs the delicate joint cavity. Often, the body’s own immune system malfunctions and directs excessive inflammation to the joints.

Antibodies Attack Your Own Tissues

In rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-antibody (called rheumatoid factor) is created which mistakenly attacks one of the body’s natural antibodies: IgG. Only a portion of IgG is targeted, but it leads to a larger problem: cross-reactivity – an antibody attack on your own tissues.

Once this auto-antibody attack has occurred in the body once, rheumatoid factor can no longer distinguish between IgG and the synovial membrane of the joint. As a result, the joint itself will be slowly destroyed.

How Autoimmune Arthritis Progresses

Autoimmune types of arthritis often affect joints symmetrically (meaning both sides of the body are equally affected). This chronic disease leads to pain, stiffness, swelling, and limited range-of-motion in multiple joints. But it may start slowly with just a few small joints – stiffness in the hands is a typical early symptom.

If you have autoimmune arthritis, it’s important to work closely with your healthcare team to obtain a diagnosis and develop an ongoing maintenance and prevention plan. Some arthritic conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), can be life-threatening.

Degenerative Arthritis (aka Osteoarthritis)

Degenerative joint disease — or osteoarthritis — is the most common disorder of the joints, occurring in about 10% of people over the age of 60.

Why Do Some People Develop Osteoarthritis?

Previous Joint Issues
Often considered an “inevitable” part of aging, osteoarthritis is a bit of a misnomer. While there is inflammation (hence the “-itis”), the inflammation occurs after joint damage or in a naturally malformed joint.

Metabolic Conditions
Most people suffering from osteoarthritis typically have no precursing conditions. It can, however, develop as a result of metabolic disorders (such as diabetes).

How Does OA Attack the Joints?
The wear and tear seen in degenerative joint disease targets the “hyaline cartilage”, which is there to ensure friction-free movement and proper dispersal of weight across the bone.

Protective chondrocytes
For years, this damage is mitigated by chondrocytes. These helpful little cells replace the worn-out cartilage with fresh, strong hyaline cartilage. As we age, however, it’s hard for them to keep up.

Conventional Treatments for Osteoarthritis Increase Degeneration
It’s common for doctors to prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for arthritic pain. Unfortunately, these NSAIDS prevent chondrocyte formation — this only exacerbates the loss of cartilage.

So what other therapies are there to treat arthritis?

We’re glad you asked!

Supporting Arthritis with Naturopathic Medicine

While conventional treatment options for your arthritis may differ depending on whether it’s autoimmune or degenerative, some natural therapies prove helpful regardless of the type of arthritis causing the pain. We’ll go over a few of these today.

Arthritis is different for everybody, and every body is unique, so make sure you talk to your naturopathic doctor to determine which options are best for you.

Herbal Support for Arthritis

Anti-inflammatory Herbs

We can’t emphasize the impact inflammation has on arthritis enough. So how do we prevent further joint degeneration by inflammation? One of the most well-researched anti-inflammatory herbs is… (drum-roll please) — Turmeric!

Turmeric
Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, has a well-established track record for fighting inflammation in the body. But the bioavailability of turmeric (how much enters the circulation and thus affects the body) is often poor.

Fortunately, recent research indicates how to get the biggest bang for your buck. You’ll want to take a nano-particle turmeric supplement. Your naturopathic doctor can help you find the right version.

Analgesic Herbs

Analgesic medications relieve pain. The same is true of botanical analgesics which come in all shapes and sizes.

Cayenne Pepper
Topical analgesics can be extremely helpful for your arthritic pain. One prominent botanical is cayenne pepper. Often delivered as a salve, cayenne pepper can be rubbed onto the skin over sore joints.

Essential Oils
Wintergreen, camphor, and eucalyptus also make excellent topical analgesics. The volatile oils in these herbs absorb easily through the skin and have been researched for their effectiveness in reducing pain.

CBD
One increasingly popular analgesic botanical is cannabidiol (or CBD). This non-psychoactive compound is a close cousin of THC. Found in cannabis and hemp, CBD is particularly effective as a topical analgesic for joint pain (especially in rheumatoid arthritis).

Navigating the new world of CBD products can be daunting for some. Feel free to reach out to your naturopathic doctor for help.

While pain relief doesn’t address the underlying cause of your arthritis, it can help you get back on your feet and into the world you love.

Hydrotherapy

Speaking of pain relief, one fast-tracked route to happier joints is hydrotherapy.

Hydrotherapy uses contrasting water temperatures to circulate blood and lymph throughout the body. Warm water is a vasodilator: it relaxes blood vessels (which lowers blood pressure). Cold water, on the other hand, is a vasoconstrictor: the blood vessels narrow and pressure jumps.

By alternating the water temperature, the blood vessels around your joint first relax and dilate, and then quickly (under cold water) tighten and constrict. By repeating this back-and-forth, you can effectively flush the blood, lymph, and inflammation that has accumulated around the joint.

How to Get Started with Hydrotherapy at Home
The technique is very simple.

Place your painful joint under the faucet or showerhead. Start with warm water (enough heat to make your skin pink). Once the skin shows a flushed tone, switch the temperature to cold — as cold as you can handle. Blast the chilly water for 20-30 seconds.

That’s all there is to it!

Repeat the warm-cold sequence for about two minutes. You may find yourself at the faucet several times a day. It’s quick, free, and easy to do when you’re in pain.

Lifestyle Factors That Can Support Arthritis

More than ever before, researchers are uncovering direct links between auto-immune conditions and gut health.

Gut Health

Recent studies on rheumatoid arthritis reveal changes in the gut microbiome (the diverse bacteria in our GI tract). Two species in particular show specific alterations in RA. The Haemophilus species are depleted, while the lactobacillus salivarius species are over-represented.

What do these changes mean?

In cases of auto-immune arthritis, it means that the gut microbiome may be involved in the development of the condition. This can translate into actionable therapeutic options in light of other recent studies.

Probiotics & the Microbiome
The use of probiotics to alter the gut microbiome, for example, is a hot topic in the health community.

Probiotics have shown therapeutic benefits for rheumatoid arthritis. Comprised of tiny exogenous bacteria, probiotics have immune-modulating effects (helping the immune system function appropriately) and can help decrease inflammation. Talk to your ND to see if probiotics are a sensible option for you.

Reducing Arthritis Triggers With an Elimination Diet

Along a similar vein, let’s examine elimination diets.

If you have autoimmune conditions, your food sensitivities can affect the overall reactivity of your immune system. The idea is that by identifying and removing food triggers, your immune reaction (read: inflammation) may decrease.

You can start an elimination diet with the help of your naturopathic doctor. Your ND can give you a list of foods that are potential triggers. You’ll stop eating these for a while, and then (one by one) re-introduce each food. Any sensitivity or reaction is noted and addressed.

Food Sensitivity Testing
Your naturopathic doctor may decide to order food-sensitivity tests as well, which can provide you with a list of potential suspects unique to you which may not be on the list of typical trigger foods.

Some foods are easier to avoid than others. A diet plan can help you find the right recipes and natural ingredients to help you enjoy your meals while reducing the risk of an overactive immune response.

The Role of Exercise In Arthritis

When you suffer from joint pain, exercise and physical movement can be rather difficult. But remaining physically active is an important component for your overall health. It is important to try and stay active even with arthritis.

If you experience a flare-up of your arthritic pain, scale back your daily exercises. No harm, no foul.

Functional Movement
Functional exercise trains the body for the everyday movement and activities performed in real life and boasts many benefits for arthritis. It can delay Rheumatoid Arthritis disease development, according to recent studies. These exercises also enhance joint function and reduce painful joints, including morning stiffness.

Rest
In general, rest helps swollen and inflamed joints. If you feel fatigued, it’s also important to rest and recuperate. However, during these times, gentle range-of-motion (ROM) exercises help keep your joints flexible.

Final Takeaway

As you can see, there are many natural ways to support your body when suffering from arthritis. You have options! Naturopathic and lifestyle therapies have been shown to offer significant, medication-free relief for those dealing with arthritis. Use caution when starting a new regimen even with natural therapies, it’s always best to work with a professional for guidance specific to your unique body and health issues.

Your Naturopathic doctor can help you find solutions for your arthritis. Acupuncture, laser therapy, and even liver support may all play a role in your individualized treatment plan. Reach out for more details today!

References:

Daily JW, Yang M, Park S. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. J Med Food. 2016;19(8):717-729. doi:10.1089/jmf.2016.3705

Mohammed AT, Khattab M, Ahmed AM, Turk T, Sakr N, M Khalil A, Abdelhalim M, Sawaf B, Hirayama K, Huy NT. The therapeutic effect of probiotics on rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials. Clin Rheumatol. 2017 Dec;36(12):2697-2707. doi: 10.1007/s10067-017-3814-3. Epub 2017 Sep 15. PMID: 28914373.

Wang L, Gao C, Zhu D, Chen LH. [Effect of functional exercises on patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis]. Beijing Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2018 Dec 18;50(6):991-997. Chinese. PMID: 30562770.

Zhang X, Zhang D, Jia H, Feng Q, Wang D, Liang D, Wu X, Li J, Tang L, Li Y, Lan Z, Chen B, Li Y, Zhong H, Xie H, Jie Z, Chen W, Tang S, Xu X, Wang X, Cai X, Liu S, Xia Y, Li J, Qiao X, Al-Aama JY, Chen H, Wang L, Wu QJ, Zhang F, Zheng W, Li Y, Zhang M, Luo G, Xue W, Xiao L, Li J, Chen W, Xu X, Yin Y, Yang H, Wang J, Kristiansen K, Liu L, Li T, Huang Q, Li Y, Wang J. The oral and gut microbiomes are perturbed in rheumatoid arthritis and partly normalized after treatment. Nat Med. 2015 Aug;21(8):895-905. doi: 10.1038/nm.3914. Epub 2015 Jul 27. PMID: 26214836.